After working with pre-teen and teen girls in public education, in private practice, and having a daughter myself I've learned that the start of a healthy self concept begins with a healthy body image. In a media driven society, that often sexualizes girls and even boys for that matter, there are many mixed messages about what to value in our bodies and how to think of them. Here are some offerings to help facilitate a healthy body image.
10 Ways to Give Your Daughter a Healthy Body Image
1. Observe your own body image and the messages you give yourself.
If you are saying negative things about your body, not taking care of your body, and lack awareness of the many amazing experiences our bodies enable us to have then you may be passing on a poor body image to your daughter. Start with your daughter a healthy body image starts with you. Make sure that you are not outwardly critical about your body. Don't make comments about your body being fat, ugly, or gross. Focus on message of gratitude for your body and all that it does for you. Show gratitude for your body in the way you care for it. Examples would be engaging in activities in the sunshine, eating raw fruits and veggies, and getting adequate rest. Invite your daughter to engage in these activities with you and educate her on why it is important to do these things for ourselves (reasons that go far beyond our outward appearance.) When we take care of our bodies we are able to enjoy activities in our lives more fully through increased emotional resilience.
"as a child, i never heard one woman say to me 'i love my body.' not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend, not one woman has ever said, 'i am so proud of my body,' so i make sure to say it to Mia, because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age." Kate Winslet
2. Give Limits to the Clothing She Wears and Discuss what is and is Not Appropriate.
As fashion trends come and go one style that is always popular seems to be sassy and sexy. Every generation gives their own interpretation of the latest sex appeal and let's face it, as parents we want our kids to fit in and be liked. The key is to have our kids accepted for the right reasons with the right kind of friendships. Wearing clothing that is sexually revealing or suggestive is distracting especially for a younger age group. When we allow these styles to be worn non-verbal messages are sent to others that it is okay to see those areas of your body. It communicates boundaries and comfort levels with those areas being shared. Don't get me wrong there is nothing wrong with being proud of a developing body. What is important is having personal awareness about our body so that we are sharing it at times that are appropriate for the age and setting. Take time to discuss a variety of scenarios to help her understand. For example, attire for a swimming pool party, barbecue, wedding, prom, or school. Ask your daughter what she has noticed or her personal thoughts about how girls were treated or thought of when wearing clothing too tight or revealing in those settings.
3. Intercept Negative Messages She Gives Herself and Encourage Positive Ones.
You may hear your daughter make critical comments about her body or areas of her body. Help her to re-frame her thoughts and re-focus her attention to what is positive and loving. Let her know that giving herself praise and affirmations is not conceited or arrogant. It is about embracing your strengths and using your strengths to enjoy yourself and life. One way to help her get comfortable with herself is to have her vocalize positive self-affirmations daily. She may struggle with this exercise at first but you can model for her and even share 5 you give to yourself and she share 5 of herself.
I need to
be skinnier love myself.
4. Discuss Why Our Bodies are Special for reasons other than physical appearance.
Our bodies are what allow us to enjoy the many wonderful emotional experiences we have such as love, joy, happiness, excitement, fulfillment, etc.. Our bodies also enable us to connect with each other and engage as human being. Our bodies serve as a house and a home for our spiritual and emotional selves. Have your daughter share the reasons she is friends with her friends. Chances are it wasn't just because of what they look like. We are friends with others because they make us laugh, they stimulate thought, they are fun, among many other reasons. People are attracted to us for so much more than just our appearance. Let's start helping our daughter's understand that her body image is about more than the way she looks!
5. Surround Her With Positive People.
Our environment definitely has an impact on our self concept. As parents we can't control all the people our kids hang around. We can bring positive people into their life. Take time to reflect on the people that are a part of the family's life and your friendships. What kind of messages are coming into your daughter's life both directly and indirectly. This could be through family T.V. shows, school extra curricular activities, neighborhood gatherings, or religious events. All of these situations could be an opportunity for your daughter to engage with positive people.
6. Have critical discussions about images in the media.
Images in the media are very deceiving. One photograph for a magazine goes through many revisions and touch ups before getting printed for the newsstands. The models used for some of those shots may be very young girl while appearing to be a woman. Paint, make up, and special lighting is used to create an image that is desired. Think of it like magic. The magicians a.k.a photographers and make-up artists, know just what they want you to see an not see. They also know just how to get your attention and keep it distracting you from thinking about any of the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff.
7. Encourage her to participate in activities that she enjoys.
When we engage in activities we enjoy we often feel good about ourselves and our bodies. Having a healthy body image is being able to engage ourselves our bodies in things that bring pleasure because it reminds us of the value and significance of our bodies. When we engage in things we love to do it is often because we do those things well and feel some level of personal success and pride. Every healthy body need to experience pride and personal success! Do things together and apart. Let her see you engage in things you love to do as well!
8. Have her create a top 10 list of things she likes about herself that aren’t related to appearance and review it often.
You may get some resistance on this one but I can assure you it is an important exercise. Searching for the positive can’t happen often enough. In fact, the negative seems so accessible that we are able to rattle off a list of things we dislike about ourselves with little effort. Now, doesn’t something seem a little wrong with that? If coming up with things you don’t like about yourself is easier than things that you like about yourself then your focus needs to shift. Everyone has unique and special characteristics that deserve positive acknowledgement. Challenge your daughter to start focusing on things about herself that she likes. Remind her that to do so is not arrogant, conceited, or stuck up. To appreciate yourself is about good health and gratitude. Still resistant point out to her that having healthy relationships starts within yourself. If she focuses on the negative about herself then she is more likely to focus on the negative in others and others are more likely to see the negative in her.
9. Teach her how to listen to her body’s needs and fulfill those needs.
As your daughter improves the relationship with herself she will become more in tune with what her body needs. Perhaps, certain foods, exercise, relaxation, rest, nurturing etc… We may find that our mood becomes more fragile when we are low on sleep, or that we have more tummy aches or headaches when we over extend ourselves and need to relax. Not having breakfast in the morning make 3rd period class really difficult to concentrate in. Any of these situations and more can put us at odds with our bodies because they are not working for us but instead against us. Help your daughter become more aware of these needs and how she may be reacting to them.
10. Have her learn about the amazing things our bodies can do.
As women our bodies are able to do some pretty amazing things! Help your daughter to understand all of the many wonders of the female anatomy.